People in severe mental health crises are being kept in a South London hospital’s emergency department for three days while they wait for a suitable bed to come free, a nurse has revealed.

Laura, a senior sister at King’s College hospital, told a meeting of the NHS trust’s board of directors on Thursday (May 9) that hospital staff, other patients and even relatives had suffered violence and aggression from the mentally ill people during their long stays in A&E.

She said some of the patients who were in need of a psychiatric intensive care bed were experiencing psychosis and had histories of assault, sexual assault, and carrying weapons..

Over a one month period between February and March there were 19 incidents of serious violence and aggression at King’s College hospital’s emergency department in Camberwell, South East London, Laura revealed. 

In one case a mentally ill girl sexually assaulted a female staff member who was looking after her, 14 hours into her stay in the emergency department.

The same girl then bit two security guards and punched two more. After 27 hours waiting in A&E, the girl ran out of a cubicle and hit a doctor on the head.

In another incident, a patient experiencing psychosis ran into an elderly man in a wheelchair, who fell back and hit his head.

The nurse also recalled a case where a mentally ill patient who had been in the department for 20 hours punched a security guard in the face, strangled another and sexually assaulted his own mum. 

Laura said: “The instances [of violence] increase 18 hours in, 24 hours in. It’s not that they’ve been in the department for an hour. […] These are people who are here for a long time. 

“I’m saying to them ‘You’re going to be under a section: you can’t leave the hospital’ and it’s completely rational that they want fresh air and I can’t allow them to do that. It’s not rocket science. It’s really simple basic needs and these things happen at these lengths of time.”

Another senior sister in the emergency department, who gave her name as Helena, said the fact that the hospital is located opposite psychiatric hospital, The Maudsley, meant more people with mental health issues presented at King’s College hospital’s A&E 

She said: “[It’s] to the point where the ambulance service will bring people purposefully out of their area to us.

"We are exceptionally fortunate to have an amazing security team. We could not function in the department without them. But at the same time these mental health patients that come in that need restraint and sedation, their experiences must be horrific because it’s not the environment for them.” 

Professor Clive Kay, chief executive of King’s College hospital trust, said a recent study showed mental health attendances at King’s College hospital’s emergency department had risen by 30 per cent since 2020.

An increase had not been seen at the emergency departments of other hospitals in South East London. 

A 2017 international study led by researchers at UCL, King’s College London and the University of Cambridge found that people in South East London reported the highest incidences of psychotic disorders, along with people in Paris.